Exploring the Columbia River and points north

Columbia River
Sailing through the Columbia River gorge, Blake Passage

In June 2014, I was invited to take a sneak peek at a new expansion of the United Sailing Sims (USS) estates to the north of Blake Sea. The expansion, referred to as Blake Passage, and now pretty much complete, is themed after the Columbia River of the Pacific Northwest region of North America and offers a new area to explore by boat and plane. Given I did have my sneak peek back in June, and have since explored the area a number of times, I thought it high time I wrote about my little excursions.

The work has been carried out in two phases, the first part of which focused on recreating a part of the Columbia River itself, through the four regions of Columbia Bar, Columbia West, Columbia River and Columbia East. Running from east to west, these split the Blake Passage regions in two, forming a navigable channel through which boats must pass when travelling between the Passage and the USS regions sitting between it and the north side of Blake Sea.

Blake Passage
Heading into the currents at the west end of the Columbia River gorge, Blake Passage

When travelling to the gorge from the south, I suggest travelling via Dutch Harboor and Balboa Pacific before heading between the islands of Drakes Bay and cutting through the northwest side of Eureka Point into Walla Walla before turning due west into the river gorge at Columbia East. Or if you prefer, you can teleport to the Columbia East ferry point, and rez your boat there.

Sailing the regions is a pleasant experience; while the island are residential, they offer a picturesque backdrop when exploring. They’re all of a fair uniform size, offering comfortable space for those looking for a place to live which offers water access for sailing. The river gorge offers smaller parcels for rent, all of which also have waterfront access for mooring both boats and seaplanes, should you be looking for a place to live which offers the opportunity for boating.

Juneau regional airport and the White Pass railroad train
Juneau regional airport and the White Pass railroad train

For pilots, Blake Passage includes Juneau Regional Airport, which offers both a tarmac runway and a seaplane lane and docks –  although traffic is restricted to smaller aircraft. At the front of the airport is a terminus for the White Pass railroad – named for the British Columbia / Yukon line of the same name, which can take passengers north and west to Blake Inlet. Those who like a long-distance trip can also use Blake Inlet to reach Inumiut, a stretch of open water connecting the Passage regions with the mainland coastline further west.

There is still some work going on to finish-up work in the expansion area, but if you’re looking for a new place to explore while on the water – or looking for a new airport to try-out if you’re a flyer (remembering the traffic restriction), the Blake Passage regions and Juneau airport may well be worth a visit.

Another view along the Columbia River gorge
Another view along the Columbia River gorge

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Martian technology comes down to Earth; NASA asks students to help

CuriosityThere’s some interesting news coming from the Mars Science Laboratory, with NASA revealing that Curiosity is contributing to matters of safety here on Earth.

Over the decades, NASA has established a strong track record for space-focused technologies having spin-off applications here on Earth. The Apollo programme, for example, lead to some 1,400 patents and technical developments which impacted all of our lives. These have included:

  • Physical therapy and athletic development machine used by football teams, sports clinics, and medical rehabilitation centres
  • Water purification systems used in community water supply systems and cooling towers to kill bacteria, viruses and algae
  • Freeze-drying technology to preserve nutritional value and taste in foods; improvements in kidney dialysis arising from the need to recycle fluids in space
  • The widespread use of flame-resistant textiles used by fire fighters, service personnel, etc.
  • Sensor system to detect the presence of hazardous gases in oil fields, refineries, offshore platforms, chemical plants, waste storage sites, and other locations where gases could be released into the environment.
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Lance Christensen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, demonstrates the gas leak detection device developed using his tunable laser spectrometer develop for the Mars Science Laboratory

It is in reference to this last aspect of spin-off technologies that Curiosity is contributing to safety on Earth.

On Wednesday October 2nd, NASA’s JPL announced that technology developed for the Curiosity rover is now being tested by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) which should enable their personnel to identify possible leak locations, fast-tracking their ability to repair gas leaks.

The new system utilises laser-based technology developed for MSL to aid detection of Methane on Mars. It is a spin-off of the tunable laser spectrometer, developed by JPL science engineer Lance Christensen, and one of the principal science instruments carried within the body of the Mars rover. The PG&E application utilities elements of the laser system together with a tablet computer in a hand-held device. This allows field engineers to detect trace elements of gas coming from a leak by passing the detector over the ground above the line of the pipe. Testing is currently underway, and it is hoped that if successful, it will see the system introduced for general use in the US utility industry in 2015. It is particularly relevant to PG&E, after one of their gas pipes ruptured in 2010 and the resultant explosion killed eight people.

Curiosity’s compact spectrometer systems have already given rise to the testing of a new generation of compact, portable, multi-purpose spectrometers for use by geologists and researchers working in the field, and the development of this system with PG&E marks another significant step in NASA’s tradition of contributing back to technology, engineering, safety, etc., here on Earth.

NASA 3D Printing Contest for Students

3D printing has the potential to revolutionise many areas of life and business – both on Earth and in space. Earlier in 2014, for example, British Aerospace has received European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Form 1 certification approval to use a 3D printed part in one of their aeroplanes, and the European Space Agency (ESA) is investigating the use of 3D printing methods for space applications.

NASA, in partnership with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation has now opted to launch a competition for US school and college students, to design and submit a digital 3-D model of a tool that they think astronauts will need in space.

Introducing the competition in a video (below), NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock says, “As you know, we don’t have overnight shipping up in space, so when we really need something, we have to wait. To be able to make parts on demand will forever change that for us.”

The competition, launched in late September, has a closing date of December 15th, 2014. Two grand prizes are on offer: the winner of the 5-12 year age group will get a 3-D printer for his or her school, while the winner in the 13-19 age range will receive a trip to NASA’s Payload Operations in Huntsville, Alabama, where the student will watch his or her object manufactured on the International Space Station.The winners will be announced in January 2015, and full details for entry can be found on the Future Engineers website.

Continue reading “Martian technology comes down to Earth; NASA asks students to help”

Of hounds and witches, ghosts and ghouls

It’s time to kick-off another week of fabulous story-telling in voice, brought to Second Life by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. and Seanchai Kitely.

As always, all times SLT / PDT, and unless otherwise stated, events will be held on the Seanchai Library’s home on Imagination Island.

Sunday October 5th, 13:30: Tea-time at Baker Street: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Caledonia Skytower, Corwyn Allen and Kayden Oconnell invite you to join them as they turn the lights down low, stoke the fire against the surrounding darkness and continue to bring us what is quite possibly the most famous of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works.

Baskervilles-1902The third full-length novel written about Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles is likely to be a tale – at least in outline – unfamiliar to a very few. Adapted more than 20 times for film and television down the decades, starting with the 1914/15 4-part series, Der Hund von Baskerville, in addition to be adapted for radio, the story has likely reached a huge audience down the years.

But how many are familiar with the original? Adaptations, after all, pick and choose elements of a story they wish to take, some add their own twists and turns quite outside of Conan Doyle’s plot in order to keep their offering fresh and exciting to an audience. Others – such as Paul McGuigan’s The Hounds of Baskerville, featured in the BBC’s brilliant Sherlock series – draw inspiration from this tale of dark happenings at Baskerville Hall, ancient curses and more, but take their story in wholly different directions to those imagined by Conan Doyle.

So why not join Cale, Corwyn and Kayden as they continue reading from the original, first published in 1902, and discover just how Sir Arther Conan Doyle unfolded this apparently supernatural tale of giant hounds and murder, and the pivotal role played by John Watson himself?

Monday October 6th, 19:00: The Witches of Karres

witches of KarresGyro Muggins delves into James H. Schmitz’s mix of space opera, hard science-fiction and fantasy, all mixed together with a flavouring of humour. The original story, a novella, was first published in 1949, and 1996, Schmitz expanded it into a full-length novel with three further adventures, prior to the series spinning-off into two additional novels, The Wizard of Karres (2004), by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer, and The Sorceress of Karres (2010), again by Flint and Freer.

There’s an old saying that no good deed ever goes unpunished. Such is the case for Captain Pausert, inexperienced space trader, skipper (and sole crew member) of the old Venture. He’s just starting to feel he might make it as a trader dealing in cargo no-one else will handle when he is persuaded to take aboard three young girls who had been enslaved on the planet Porlumma.

Turns out the young girls are not quite what they seem, and hail from the forbidden world of Karres and possess psionic powers. As a result, Pausert finds himself arrested on his return home and regarded as a criminal within the Empire. If that’s not bad enough, once freed by one of the young girls in return for his good deed of rescuing her and her sisters, the poor novice Captain discovers he’s out of the frying pan and into the fire, subject to pursuit not only by the Empire, but also the less-than-friendly Sirians, psychopathic Uldanians, space pirates, and even the darkest of all threats to humankind – the Worm World.

Tuesday October 7th, 19:00: Bellwether

  Constance Elaine Trimmer “Connie” Willis is an American science fiction writer. She is one of the most honored science fiction writers of the 1980s and 1990s. Her books have between them won 11 Hugo awards, seven Nebula awards and four Locus awards, making her the recipient of more major science-fiction awards than any other author.

Bellwether, published in 1996, was a Nebula ward nominee, brings together pop culture, love, chaos theory and a study of human behaviour. Dr. Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation, a company keen to find a means of predicting how fads happen so they might create one themselves and profit from it. Also working for HiTek, Dr. Bennet O’Reilly is studying monkey group behaviour and chaos theory. When a misdelivered package brings the two together, coupled with a series of unfortunate events, they engage upon a joint project involving a flock of sheep. Even so, more setbacks, disappointments and surprises are likely to arise before the answers to their questions are found…

Wednesday October 8th, 19:00: Caledonia’s Ghost Stories

Selections from Caledonia’s spooky-sweet original works, past and in progress.

Thursday October 9th

19:00: Gothic Ghost Stories

With Shandon Loring.

21:00 Seanchai Late Night

With Finn Zeddmore.

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Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule. The featured charity for September-October is Reading is Fundamental: seeking motivate young children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life.

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